Rare Cat Captured in Camera Trap

Scientists in the U.K. have caught the elusive Borneo bay cat (Pardofelis badia) on camera, along with four other rare species of felines.

Cats are notoriously secretive, and the Borneo bay cat is no exception. But this feline is more mysterious than most. Fewer than 2,500 of them are thought to exist on Borneo (map), the third largest island in the world, and the only place where the cats are known to live. Rarely spotted by scientists and locals, the cats were first photographed in 2003.

Bay cats have rich chestnut fur and tails that are roughly 14 inches (35 centimeters) long. Their bodies are around 24 inches (60 centimeters) long, and they weigh between 6.5 and 8.8 pounds (3-4 kilograms). Because so few of these cats have been captured or measured, researchers say that these are still just estimates.

Although researchers know that bay cats are nocturnal, they still don’t know much about their eating or mating habits, nor about their life span. (Also see “Rare African Golden Cat Caught in Camera Trap.”

Oliver Wearn, a Ph.D. student at Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London, and Robert Ewers, also from Imperial College London, didn’t set out in search of the rare Borneo bay cat.

Their goal was to see whether any types of felids were still living in the Kalabakan Forest Reserve in Malaysian Borneo. This reserve had been heavily logged in the past, and it was unclear whether larger mammals could survive there.

Tracking Cats

Wearn, Ewers, and their colleagues placed 135 cameras randomly around the reserve on the northern edge of the island. Each camera recorded for an average of 49 nights, giving them 6,650 nights of data. Using cameras allowed the researchers to gather more information without scaring off any of the already skittish animals.

“The cameras record multiple sightings, sometimes of species which we might be very lucky to see even after spending years in an area. For example, I’ve seen the clouded leopard just twice in three years of fieldwork, whilst my cameras recorded 14 video sequences of this enigmatic cat in just eight months,” Wearn said in a statement.

Besides the rare bay cat, the scientists reported yesterday in PLOS ONE that they also spotted the Sunda clouded leopard, leopard cat, flat-headed cat, and marbled cat. The Kalabakan Forest Reserve has become only the fourth location on Borneo where all five species of wild cat can be found. (Also see “Rare Footage of Snow Leopards Caught by Mountain Yak Herder.”)

Wearn and Ewers say that it’s a good sign these cats can survive in logged forests. With some of these species listed as endangered, and commercial logging threatening much of their natural habitat, their ability to survive after logging has occurred gives them a better chance at maintaining healthy population levels. (Learn about National Geographic’s big cats initiative.)

“Conservationists used to assume that very few wild animals can live in logged forest, but we now know this land can be home for many endangered species,” Ewers said in the statement.

“Our study today shows solid evidence that even large carnivores, such as these magnificent bay cats, can survive in commercially logged forests.”

Tell us: Have you ever spotted a rare wild cat?

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Changing Planet

Carrie is a freelance science writer living in Virginia. When she's not writing about cool critters, she's spending time outside, drinking coffee, or knitting. You can visit her website at http://www.carriearnold.com